Not guilty pleas entered in illegal campaign contributions case

Upland businessman Mark Anthony Leggio and three other defendants entered not-guilty pleas Friday to charges of illegal campaign contributions in state political races.

Before the arraignment proceedings in San Bernardino Superior Court, Judge Bryan Foster denied a defense motion to dismiss the charges based on a late filing of an amended indictment by prosecutors.

Prosecutors responded they were simply complying with a deadline set by the court.

Foster responded that no specific date had been given and that he "would try to be more specific in the future."

The 44-year-old Leggio, an influential local Republican and co-owner of three Inland Empire car dealerships, is charged with pumping more than $50,000 in illegal contributions to state Senate and Assembly races from 2002 to 2006.

Charges against Leggio and three other men - Nicola Cacucciolo, 63, Nick Vito Cacucciolo, 35, and James Lloyd Deremiah, 52 - were unsealed in June in a 37-page grand jury indictment.

At the arraignment, lawyers representing the four defendants entered not-guilty pleas and denials for all counts and special allegations. The defendants return to court on Feb. 20.

"It's our intention to file a (California Penal Code) 995 motion in this," said Leggio's lawyer, Thomas Warwick.

The motion would ask the court to dismiss the charges, citing a lack of reasonable and probable cause.

Warwick indicated "there's a lot of 995 issues" that he intends to bring before the court.

"This may be a very extensive hearing," Warwick said while discussing scheduling of future court dates.

The hearing was tentatively set for March 7.

Both Warwick and Leggio declined to comment after the court proceedings.

Prosecutors allege that Leggio made maximum contributions to candidates and then had friends and employees make additional contributions that he would reimburse.

If convicted, Leggio could face up to six years in state prison, while the other defendants face up to three years, according to prosecutors.

In a separate matter, Leggio tentatively agreed to settle allegations of campaign contribution violations with the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

The settlement's impact on Leggio's criminal case remains to be seen.

Under the agreement, Leggio would pay a $150,000 fine in connection with "a repeated pattern of violations" over a five-year period, according to FPPC reports.

The FPPC is set to consider Leggio's agreement for approval at its Dec. 11 meeting in Sacramento.

Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Michael Cabral, who is prosecuting Leggio, has said the settlement with the state would have no impact on the criminal case.

San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos, citing a conflict of interest, had his office bow out of prosecuting the case.

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